Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark told Newsmax TV
on Monday that he is "worried to death" about thousands of U.S. troops dispatched to western Africa to help contain Ebola, but is confident they can safely deliver humanitarian aid at the epicenter of the disease's latest outbreak.
"My heart goes out to those troops that are going over there," Clark, former supreme allied commander of NATO, told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner. "I'm worried to death about them."
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"But if they've got good leadership and the right policies . . . we should be able to pull that off," said Clark. "And the military can do these things. It doesn't have to only 'fix bayonets and charge the hill.' We've got a lot of very well trained, disciplined, motivated people in the armed forces who can pitch in in an emergency [and] provide humanitarian assistance — that 's what this is."
Clark, author of the new book, "Don't Wait for the Next War: A Strategy for American Growth and Global Leadership,"
was more skeptical about sending U.S. troops in large numbers back into the Middle East.
"It's OK to use ground power in certain restricted instances — for example, if you have to send a raid in and take out a terrorist leader, then take him out," Clark said of combating the radical Islamic State (ISIS) in both Syria and Iraq.
"But no more big invasions of the region with U.S. forces against ISIS," he said.
Describing ISIS as "a religiously motivated group of zealots," Clark said, "What they want is U.S. forces on the ground. That's a big recruiting draw for them. They'd love to say they could kill the infidels."
"So, what we want to do is use air power," he said. "We want to use the local forces — the coalitions, ground forces — and most importantly, we have to establish governance in the regions that are freed up.
"That means the Iraqi government has to become a legitimate government," he said. "And in Syria, if we don't want [Syrian dictator] Bashar Assad back in, we have to work with the Free Syrian movement — the Syrian opposition — and give them some territory to work on, and they have to call it Free Syria and defend it."
Clark, who oversaw NATO airstrikes that helped to end the brutal Kosovo war in 1999, counseled patience and a longer view of the effort to stop the ISIS rampage.
"We've got to recognize that it's not going to unfold on our timetable," said Clark. "So, the local forces, they can work. I mean, after all, ISIS is local forces. It's not that people from this part of the region can't fight — they're fighting tough on ISIS' side. People on the other side could fight just as tough if they're trained and motivated and well led."
Clark said the Middle East as a whole is "undergoing an enormous stress as part of a 300-year-old effort of Islam to accommodate to Western technology and the modernization of the West."
"When Islam got started, the West was in the Dark Ages and Islam was the center of civilization. They can't understand why, if they're God's people, that the West is more powerful," he said. "And all of this is one way or another related to that.
"So, we're not going to stop that with U.S. forces," he said, adding, "We've got to do what's required to protect America at home, maintain our interests as best we can, and avoid the kind of destructive, damaging commitments, like Iraq and Afghanistan, that have hurt America's standing in the world and reduced our power to take action and lead elsewhere."
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